Did you look at it and think it’s probably going to be an article from a guy (or gal) with mental health problems who was trying to explain why he (or she) acts the way he (or she) does? Or someone spouting off about how mental health is often used by folk to excuse their actions?
Well sorry, that is not the idea behind this article. Yes I have poor mental health but the bad behavior I am referring to actually isn’t mine it is yours and not mine!
See sometimes I like to write controversial or thought provoking titles and then add a twist. Certainly I chose this particular title because I hope that it is both controversial and thought provoking but I also chose it because it probably would make you think what I mentioned earlier.
You see many moons ago my wife and I worked with single parent families, homeless teens and mental health clients. Each client group brought different challenges, opportunities and rewards and so too did each different client for that matter.
In respect of the actual work we did it varied from client to client and whilst we certainly tried to respond to each individual client’s needs there were certainly shared or common needs. For our mental health clients one such common need was that when they went to the hospital a member of staff usually had to go with them and because of this I became fairly well known at the local hospital, certainly more well known than my wife who would visit their much less than I would.
One afternoon whilst sat having a staff meeting in the garden my wife lifted a can of soda to drink it and was unaware of a wasp that had gotten into the can. The wasp stung her on the lip and since she is allergic to wasp stings, her lips and jaw ballooned up and she had to be rushed to the hospital unable to speak and with difficulties breathing.
At the hospital she was treated and we sat waiting for the doctor to come and give us the all clear for her to go home. He did so, saying that the swelling should soon go down with mends and that once the nurse had brought some meds for us to take with us we could leave.
A few minutes later a nurse dutily arrived with the meds. Actually it was a nurse who knew me and of my work with mental health clients but who had obviously not met my wife who could still not speak. Showing me the meds she totally ignored my wife and spoke to me directly telling me when to administer the meds etc. She then turned to my wife looked at her smiled very sweetly and in a loud voice and the sought of tone that you might possibly need to use with a five year old child who had comprehension and hearing problems, she said, “I will give these to the nice man, (pointing at me) he will look after you and you will be alright, ok?”
It was obvious. She had assumed that my wife was one of my mental health clients and so treated her as such.
Now whilst that may have been slightly amusing to me at the time, (well the look on my wife’s face was) and an interesting story to share at the next staff meeting, it does illustrate how people react to mental health.
Bad reactions to folk with poor mental health manifest themselves in many different ways and to many different degrees. Some folk seems to simply put all behavior down to the fact that the person concerned has poor mental health whilst others treat people with poor mental health as lepers.
Additionally very often people who have done something wrong will ignore their own responsibilities in causing distress or anger or hurt in the person suffering from poor mental health and simply apportion everything to the mental health itself.
What we need to understand is that there are many, many different types of mental health and many, many different degrees of mental health. Because of this mental health manifests itself in many different ways and a person can be the most brilliant and lucid of people and still have major mental health problems.
Likewise someone can be the funniest of people and still suffer from extreme depression. In fact some of the most famous of entertainers and comedians have secretly suffered from severe depression and other mental health related illnesses choosing not to be too open about this because it would change people’s perception of them and how they were treated. ( A response I can very much understand)
Personally speaking I spent the best part of my life hiding my mental health from virtually everyone. As a child I was indeed sent to psychiatrists and indeed my family often discussed my behavior and mental health not really knowing how to deal with it. I did, it should be mentioned, grow up in a time when there was still a much larger stigma attached to mental health than there is today (and yes there is still a stigma attached to it today).
Eventually, when I was much older, I could hide it no more and I ended up having a complete mental and physical breakdown and so the cat was out of the bag so to speak and you know I can honestly say that once my mental health was public knowledge I could physically see the changes in people’s perception of and their interaction with me.
Even now, many years on from my breakdown, when I react to something someone does that upsets me, I can see people simply putting it down to my mental health and not even considering that actually I may have had a right to react to what they did and that actually they did behave badly or mess up.
Don’t get me wrong here, I openly and freely accept that the way in which I react to something and indeed the fact that I even reacted to that something may at times be resultant from or influenced to one degree or another by my mental health, BUT that does not mean that what was done to cause my reaction was acceptable or excusable by my mental health.
You see there is a conflict here isn’t there. As a sufferer of poor mental health I want so very much, I yearn, to live as and be treated as normally as possible. Within that desire is the wish to be treated the same way that someone without mental health would be treated and yet at the same time I understand and accept that the fact that I do have mental health issues means that I cannot always be treated that way and that both you and I have to accept the effects of my mental health.
So let us come from this a different way for a moment or two. If you had a friend or a loved one who had a severe headache how would you act around them? Would you speak very loudly, play loud music, crash about making lots of noise? Hopefully not. Hopefully you would soften your voice, play your music quietly and try to be sensitive to their needs, avoid the things that would cause them distress or aggravate their condition, and hopefully you would make allowances if they react badly to something that you did unintentionally which did aggravate them or cause them suffering.
So let me ask you this, “Does the fact that their condition is physical make it any the more acceptable or important or understandable or relevant than mine which is mental?
In truth, poor mental health can sometimes cause the sufferer to perceive, comprehend, react or behave differently to folk with good mental health, doing so to varying degrees and in varying ways. But this does not and should not excuse or remove your responsibility of care and concern and respect and courtesy for the sufferer of poor mental health it actually increases it!
So I ask you. If you have someone in your life who suffers from poor mental health or any mental health related issue and you do something that seems to hurt or annoy or distress or upset them, please consider your own actions first and please try to see and accept and indeed admit that what you did could have caused that reaction and please try to address the action and the effect not just write everything off to that person’s mental health.
Because I have to tell you as someone who does indeed suffer from poor mental health, it really saddens and hurts me when folk who I love and care about fail to recognize and accept their own responsibility and instead use my mental health as an excuse for their bad behavior.